Living with diabetes

Diabetes doesn't have to keep you from enjoying life

Nov 19, 2017

How many people do you know with diabetes? Unless you’ve asked someone, chances are you wouldn’t even know they have it. That’s because people with diabetes are living healthier lives these days, thanks to new medications and lifestyle changes, which help to keep the disease in check.

Still when you look at the numbers affected it’s pretty staggering – about 30 million in the U.S. – have the disease. Here in Wisconsin, approximately 2 out of 5 adults are expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Meanwhile, nearly 4 out of 10 Wisconsin adults have prediabetes. That is when blood sugar levels are higher than they should be, but not in the diabetes range. It used to be referred to as “borderline” diabetes.

Lifestyle changes make a big difference

Eating right, getting plenty of exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are good lifestyle goals for all of us. And, it turns out these are the same things that minimize your risk of type 2 diabetes.

“Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes,” says Courtney Titus, diabetes educator with SSM Health Dean Medical Group. “About 90-95 percent of people have this type and it tends to affect adults, but has been a growing diagnosis in children and young adults. It’s also possible to prevent or delay with lifestyle change.”

Type 2 diabetes is a form of diabetes where there’s insulin resistance in the body as well as a decrease in insulin production. Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Elevated blood sugar and lipid levels
  • Family history of diabetes
  • History of gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

People at risk for developing type 2 diabetes typically have prediabetes and can exhibit signs of lethargy, frequent urination, blurry vision and are extra thirsty.

“People with prediabetes can really be in control of how fast or even if they develop type 2 diabetes at all,” Titus said. “If your doctor says you have prediabetes it’s important to watch what you eat, choose healthy foods, cut back on proportions, get rid of excess fats and sweets in your diet, add activity into your daily regimen and lose 5-10 percent of your body weight.”

The less common form of diabetes is type 1. This type is most often diagnosed in children and young adults and is a condition where the body does not produce insulin on its own. Because of that, people with type 1 diabetes need to receive external sources of insulin to survive. That’s why people with type 1 often have an insulin pump.

“No matter which type of diabetes you have, basic treatments are pretty similar,” Titus said, “Watch what you eat, get regular physical activity and if your doctor or provider prescribes medications, make sure you take them. The difference is patients with type 1 require insulin while patients with type 2 may be able to control it with diet and activity alone.”

Significant risks if diabetes left uncontrolled

Diabetes symptoms can often be mistaken for just having a rough week. Left unchecked, though, the risks from complications are significant and even deadly. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Each year, more than 1,300 Wisconsin residents die from diabetes and many more suffer disabling complications.

“Diabetes is not something to take lightly,” Titus said. “There are lots of risks if you don’t control the disease. You can get blood vessel damage leading to micro or macro vascular problems. It’s one of the leading causes of stroke.”

And, it’s also one of the leading causes of blindness, heart disease, kidney problems, nerve damage and circulation problems in the lower extremities. Those risks also make it the leading cause of lower extremity amputation by a non-traumatic injury.

When blood sugar levels are controlled people with diabetes have more energy and overall feel better. That’s why it’s so important to not only get it diagnosed but then make sure it’s under control.

“Regular follow-up with a diabetes educator or a physician is critical to make sure there’s ongoing monitoring of the disease,” Titus said. “Having your blood pressure checked regularly, lipids monitored annually, and getting a flu shot yearly are also important.”

The good news: People with diabetes are leading normal lives. And, research continues to change the treatments that are available. New advancements result in more efficient medications, better insulin pumps and improved blood glucose monitors so people with diabetes can better control their disease.

A diabetes diagnosis can be scary. But, as long as patients are given the knowledge on how to control the disease, that diagnosis doesn’t have to keep them from enjoying life.

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